Making the decision to live with someone, especially a perfect stranger, can completely disrupt your life. If you make the wrong choice, you could wind up sharing space with a disrespectful slob who pays rent late – if at all.
And while living with someone who’s messy is doable, you certainly don’t want to be stuck with the entire rent payment each month. That’s why it’s important to thoroughly vet a potential roommate’s financial situation before you decide to move in together.
Start with a conversation
Get to know each other a little better before diving right into the money questions. You might scare off prospective roommates if you jump right in with, “How much money do you make?”
There’s a good chance you’ll naturally get answers to a few of the important money questions simply by having a general “get-to-know-you” conversation anyway.
Remember, you should strive to naturally weave these questions into a conversation. Carefully select your words so you don’t come off like you’re conducting an inquisition.
1. What do you do for work?
This is a straight-forward question that’s not incredibly intrusive, which means it’s a good way to kick off the conversation. You should share your own answer to this question as well.
The goal is to determine if your potential roommate has a full-time job and stable employment. Part-time work or temporary work may be a potential red flag when it comes to always having enough money to pay rent on time.
2. Do you work from home?
Working from home doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t pay rent on time. However, it does mean the person could want to carve out an area of your joint living space for an office.
You should know this information ahead of time to ensure your quality of life and shared space expectations are compatible.
3. How much do you earn annually?
Okay, this one is a bit awkward. People are often hesitant to share annual income. In that case, you could rephrase the question to ask, “Do you feel comfortable with the cost of rent fitting into your monthly budget?”
4. The landlord needs a security deposit and first month’s rent. Is that feasible for you?
Share the cost of your apartment’s security deposit as well as any additional required upfront payments, like first and last month’s rent. It’s important to know your potential roommate is comfortably able to shell out their half before moving on with the process.
5. Can I have the contact information of a former roommate or landlord as a reference?
An employer wouldn’t hire you without calling references, so why would you live with someone you barely know without checking around first?
Calling a former landlord is a great way to ensure this person pays rent on time and didn’t do any damage to his or her former apartment. Check in with old roommates to see if there are any quirks of which you should be made aware or if there was a persistent financial issue.
6. Do you have emergency savings in case something happens?
Hey – the unexpected happens! Could your potential roommate cover rent if he or she lost a job? This exact situation happened to me last year when my roommate lost her job because her company went under.
Luckily, she had a really healthy emergency savings fund and immediately filed for unemployment. Because she was prepared, there was never an issue covering rent or utilities before she found another job.
7. How do you prefer to pay for utilities?
There are a few different ways to handle splitting utility costs like gas, electric, Internet, cable and water. Some roommates equally divide the responsibilities while others put all utilities in one person’s name and everyone else reimburses them.
No matter your preferred system, it’s always good to ask a potential roommate if they have a strong preference and come up with a clear payment system. Plus, it’s easy to facilitate paying each other by using digital payment apps like Venmo. Gone are the days of saying, “Oh, I just don’t have cash on me right now.
8. Do you want to split the cost of household products?
Toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, sponges, soap – most of these are just easier to share instead of buying your own. See if your potential roommate has a preference when it comes to restocking these items. It doesn’t hurt to also ask if you’ll share foods like condiments.
9. Do you have a preferred way to handle cost differences?
No matter the situation, there is typically a difference in the use of resources between roommates.
For example, New York City dwellers typically don’t have central air conditioning. That means some elect to use window units, which can significantly drive up electricity costs. If only one person has a window unit in their bedroom, it’s not fair to split the electric bill down the middle.
It helps to discuss these type of differences early on to ensure everyone is clear on the costs they are expected to cover.
10. Do you have pets or plan to get a pet?
Not only are pets expensive, but they can also cause damage to the apartment. Additionally, pet security deposit may be a requirement from your landlord.
If your roommate plans to have a furry friend, make sure they agree to cover the costs of any damage done by the pet to the apartment or your personal property.
11. How will rent get paid?
I once had a co-worker who found out her roommate was three months behind on rent. They each paid rent by sliding a check under the landlord’s door, so she had no way of knowing if her roommate actually paid. It was entirely based on a trust system.
Depending on how your rent is paid, you may want to establish a habit of putting payment receipts on the fridge. To make your request less awkward, you could always say it’s to have proof of payment in case the landlord ever claims they didn’t receive the money.